Palestinian Minister Dies after West Bank Confrontation with Israeli Soldiers

A senior minister in the government of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has died following a violent confrontation with Israeli soldiers in a West Bank village near Ramallah.

Ziad Abu Ain, who dealt with the issue of Israeli settlements and the separation wall, died as he was being rushed to hospital after becoming involved in clashes with Israeli troops while planting olive trees in the village of Turmusiya near Ramallah.

The Israeli military said it was looking into reports that Abu Ain, a senior figure on Fatah’s revolutionary council, collapsed and died after being struck in the chest at an event where he also inhaled teargas fired by Israeli security forces.

Mohammed Mohesin, an assistant from Abu Ain’s office who witnessed the incident and travelled in the ambulance to hospital, claimed that over the course of a few minutes one policeman grabbed Abu Ain by the throat, a second struck him in the throat, and a third headbutted him in the chest.

According to his family, Abu Ain had suffered from health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure.

Mahmoud Aloul, a participant in the demonstration and a member of Fatah, said that he and Abu Ain had been among several dozen protesters carrying saplings to plant in protest at Israeli land seizures when the demonstrators were assaulted by Israeli troops who fired teargas and beat some of the participants with rifle butts.

A Reuters photographer covering the demonstration, who witnessed the incident, said that the minister died after being “shoved” by Israeli troops.

Chaim Levinson, a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz who covers affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, posted a picture of the minister on Twitter which he said had been taken “after Abu Ain was hit by an IDF soldier”.

Another photograph, published by the Palestinian Maan news website, showed Abu Ain lying on the ground after his collapse.

Shortly before his death, Abu Ein spoke to television reporters, sounding hoarse and short of breath.

“This is the terrorism of the occupation, this is a terrorist army, practising its terrorism on the Palestinian people,” he told the official Palestine TV. “We came to plant trees on Palestinian land, and they launch into an attack on us from the first moment. Nobody threw a single stone.”

Confirming the minister’s death, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official told the Guardian: “He had gone to plant olive trees in Turmusiya for international human rights day when Israeli soldiers arrived to oppress the demonstration. There are different versions circulating about what happened but he wasn’t shot.”

Abbas described the attack as “a barbaric act which we cannot be silent about or accept”. He announced three days of national mourning and said he would take “necessary steps” after an investigation.

The death was also condemned by the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, who said that “Israel will pay” for the “murder” of Abu Ein.

The minister’s death followed violent clashes in the area the night before, prompted by Israeli settlers’ claims that a horse had been stolen. Palestinian villagers claim it was triggered by settlers stoning Palestinian cars.

There have been months of violent unrest in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Ten Israelis and a foreign visitor have been killed by Palestinians over the past three months, while more than a dozen Palestinians have also been killed, including most of those who carried out the attacks.

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